As the co-founder of New Level Athletics, one of the most popular 7-on-7 camp series in the nation, and a former college football player at West Virginia, Kashann Simmons is wired in to the college football industry like few others. He's also the father of Stanford's first 2014 commit, Brandon Simmons, and a former high school football coach in New Jersey.
And yet, for many years, Stanford football was never really on Kashann's radar.
"When I first started coaching on a high school level (before starting NLA six years ago), I really didn't pay attention to Stanford football to be honest," Kashann said. "The Pac-12 was more the USC's and UCLA's and those programs at the moment."
But as Stanford's football fortunes began to change, Simmons, like the rest of the nation, took notice.
"I didn't really start following Stanford probably until maybe four years ago when they started really hitting their stride and getting into the BCS games," Simmons said. "Actually I took Brandon down to Arizona I think it was last year for the Semper Fidelis combine. I think that was when Stanford was playing Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. That's when they really started grabbing my attention on a national scale."
Stanford extended Brandon a scholarship last October. As the Simmons family gathered more information about the Cardinal program, Kashann was quickly taken by the mentality and execution of the Stanford team.
"There were a couple of things that sold me," Kashann said. "They play hard-nosed football. The myth or the misconception is that they don't get the best athletes, but if you look at their roster, they get the four stars and a couple of five stars, but they're coached very well. Their coaching staff is phenomenal. They're hard-nosed guys, blue-collar guys. The way they get those kids to play at that level and with all of the scrutiny that they get that smart guys can't play football, I think that's a great accomplishment for that coaching staff."
Visiting campus last weekend sealed the deal for both Brandon and Kashnn.
"We've visited a lot of schools and the thing that really struck me is not only the beautiful campus that they have, the part that really sold me was their academic advisers," Kashann said. "Usually when you go to a program they have an academic center for the football team. Stanford doesn't have that. They expect so much out of their athletes that they don't have a special program or building designed for the athletes. It's expected of them to be great students and I think when they have that, that just translates over to the football field because they can understand the game on an intellectual level that most people or most programs can't offer."
Still, like any parent, Kashann initially wanted Brandon to be absolutely certain and to explore all of his options before making a commitment to the Cardinal.
"I wanted Brandon to see everything," Simmons said. "He actually had an Oklahoma visit scheduled on Tuesday (after the Stanford visit), so I was still wanting him to see everything before he made his decision. We went to UCLA, we went to USC, and those are fine institutions. But when he stepped off (the highway) and saw the Stanford sign and came through the palm trees, just the look on his face, at that moment I knew it would be that he wanted to commit. He was just waiting for my wife and myself to okay it and talk it over."
By that point, Kashann's reservations had turned into excitement.
"When he talked to Coach Shaw and he told him he committed, we were happy, my wife and my daughter," Kashann said. "We were just excited for him because he worked so hard to get where he's gotten to, and Stanford is like the crème de la crème. If you ever go somewhere and you want the best for your kid, Stanford is the best for my son."
During the unofficial visit to Stanford, Brandon had a chance to sit down with defensive coordinator Derek Mason to discuss his role in the Cardinal defense. In addition to safety, Mason told Simmons that Stanford might utilize him as a nickleback.
Kashann agrees that Brandon has the versatility to play multiple positions in the secondary, but thinks that his son's physicality makes him a good fit at safety.
"I see him as a safety or a nickel as well," Kashann said. "He's diverse enough to where he can go play corner for Coach Mason with their scheme. But as a run stopper, as physical as Brandon is, I see him more as a safety making tackles. That is what he likes to do, but that defenses, as physical as they are, I see him more as a safety. But if they need to put him at corner I think he would be successful at that position as well."
Though he's made a verbal commitment, the recruiting process if far from over for Brandon Simmons, as well as his father. Each has stated a desire to help Stanford build its 2014 recruiting class.
As the father-son duo works to assist the Card's recruiting efforts, they'll do so with a wealth of experience about the college football recruiting process based on Kashann's experiences in the high school camp circuit.
Each year, the New Level Athletics camps are one of the most popular 7-on-7 competitions in the nation. Dozens of teams compete in four regional tournaments for the right to advance to the NLA Championship, which will be held this year in Las Vegas.
"We started NLA about six years ago just trying to get to the space of camps that put kids in the best possible position to be seen," Kashann said. "Myself and my partner came up with the 7-on-7 concept, All-Star 7-on-7 concept. At first we started off trying to help kids, and we still do have that vision, but now it's taken a turn. We used to call all the kids to come to our camp. Now the coaches have their own teams so you don't really have direct contact with kids as we used to, but we still are able to help kids at a minimum if it's needed."
Several Stanford prospects have participated in Simmons' camps over the years. In the camp's first year of existence, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo were participants.
"Our first camp in Las Vegas there was a team from California," Simmons said. "Two receivers that stick out in my mind to this day, and I have a picture of those guys, are Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. They were two guys on the California team that actually won it our first year in Vegas. I actually talked to Zach when we were up there this past weekend. He (told me that he) and Toilolo were talking about that the other day, he remembered that tournament. He said it was a good time that he had."
In addition to Ertz and Toilolo, Stanford defensive back Wayne Lyons and wide receiver Ty Montgomery, a former workout partner of Brandon, are also NLA alumni. This year, several Stanford prospects, including Arizona athlete Jalen Brown and Utah tight end Dalton Schultz, participated in NLA camps.
And while Simmons will always work to attend to the needs of individual players, he won't refrain from sharing his opinion about Stanford if asked.
"I just try to provide as much information to these guys," Simmons said. "Like (Rivals 100 Texas safety) Jamal (Adams), I'm very close with Jamal and his family. I just try to give him the pieces that we saw in Stanford. And not oversell it, because Stanford sells itself, but just tell him that he and Brandon can be two of the best safeties that come in that class and try to recruit the other kids. Just let them know what Stanford has to offer, not just in football but after football. They kind of take heed to my comments because they know I'm not going to sell them short. Even though I'm a little biased having my son committed to Stanford, it's not like I'm telling them anything false that Stanford has to offer. In the past three or four years they've been in the top-10, so you're looking for great football, that's where you might want to look. And then on top of that you're getting a phenomenal education that's going to take you on top of everything else."
Stanford's message has resonated in the state of Texas over the past few years. While the Card didn't sign a Texan in the 2013 class, a number of the program's best players throughout their BCS run, including Andrew Luck and Stepfan Taylor, hailed from the Lone Star State.
And Simmons isn't the only 2014 prospect the Cardinal is eyeing. Stanford's in good shape with Solomon Thomas, and is very much in the mix with prospects like Nick Watkins and Austin Anderson. They're also recruiting Jamal Adams and Koda Martin, among others.
What about Stanford allows them to succeed recruiting in Texas?
"I think they're starting to really blaze a trail in Texas because when they step into a room, it's a different vibe of what they bring to the table," Simmons said. "Now kids know this is Stanford and they can play football with the best. I think that image and that whole change in Texas is kids are starting to see it and they want more out of life than just football and Stanford gives you the best of both worlds, hands down, I know that the coaches that have come in this week knowing that Brandon committed and talked to him and said, 'You know man, we're so happy for you. It fits you.' They can't really knock Stanford. No one can be like, well, 'Why did you pick Stanford?' The name speaks for itself and every call we've gotten or Facebook message that Brandon has gotten has been very positive because you can't knock Stanford because now they're good in both."
Related: Brandon Simmons talks commitment